YEP Comment: Austerity for the North, spending for the South

IF the Prime Minister had chosen to visit Leeds during his trip to the North yesterday, he might not have found the warm welcome that the city usually reserves for its visitors.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 28th December 2015, 4:41 pm
Prime Minister David Cameron talks to a resident in York today. Picture by Darren Staples/PA Wire
Prime Minister David Cameron talks to a resident in York today. Picture by Darren Staples/PA Wire

After all, it was his Government that ditched a flood prevention scheme for the city in 2011.

Imagine the difference that state-of-the-art defences could have made over the weekend.

Judith Blake, the leader of Leeds City Council, has rightly described the damage caused in the city centre and other areas by the River Aire as a “preventable disaster” for Leeds.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

She also contrasted the response to floods in the North of England with what happened following the inundation of parts of Somerset last year.

Coun Blake is quite right. No Government can stop the rain from falling, but as a collector of taxes and administrator of public spending, it has a responsibility to distribute funding for flood defences in a fair, even-handed and transparent way, according to need.

Unfortunately for Mr Cameron, his Government has shown time and again that it appears to favour London and the South when it comes to infrastructure spending.

Nearly five years ago, his Tory ministers put the kibosh on the ambitious Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme, which was to have been the largest-ever inland flood defence scheme.

It was designed to increase protection for one of the largest commercial areas in England and about 4,500 city centre homes.

Sadly, cuts to the Environment Agency meant the £180m programme could not go ahead. But just a year ago, the Government found £297m to pay for new flood defences for the Thames Valley. Is it austerity for us, and plenty for them?

David Cameron has insisted that the Government was increasing spending to pay for schemes “up and down the country”. Yet the reality is that many of these schemes are undertaken in partnership with councils and agencies whose budgets have already endured disproportionate cuts. Another round of cuts are on the way soon.

If it wasn’t for the incredible community spirit and show of strength among the people of all ages and backgrounds in helping to clean up our proud city, the sense of betrayal would feel even greater.